Today I bought some plug adapters for my family, who will be arriving in a couple days, and it brought back fond memories of one of my first limited-Portuguese victories in Brazil. I had to buy an adapter for my laptop, but I didn’t know the words for “adapter,” “plug,” “outlet,” “prong,” or “power cord.”I remember standing outside the computer store thinking, How am I gonna do this? Should I draw a picture? If I ask for pencil and paper to draw, will they think I want to buy pencils and paper? Will they even understand my pronunciation?
I took a deep breath and walked into the store. A salesperson promptly approached.
“I need to buy…” I said.
I went over to a laptop plugged into the wall and pointed at the plug/outlet. “My computer has three.” – I held out my thumb and two fingers and mimed plugging them in. “I need to make it two.”
“Of course!” said the employee, smiling. He went behind the counter and got exactly the adapter I needed. SUCCESS! I remember being super encouraged by my first solo commercial transaction in Brazil.
Seven years later, there’s little – if anything – I can’t handle in Portuguese. On the one hand, it’s nice to have the confidence that results from knowing that language barriers are no longer an obstacle to my functioning in Brazilian society. On the other, I almost miss the challenge of finding creative ways to express meaning with limited vocabulary.
Time to take up another language?